When Lin-Manuel Miranda needed a break from his American history phenomenon "Hamilton," envisioning the crisp blue waters of Polynesia and Disney's latest animated musical "Moana" offered the perfect getaway.
Miranda is following up his Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway hit by contributing seven original songs for "Moana," which is now in theaters. The writer-composer-actor was hired for the film before "Hamilton" hit and said working on "Moana" proved a respite from the Broadway frenzy.
"When I got sick of doing American history research, I'd go sail across the water with Maui and Moana," Miranda, 36, said in a recent interview. "And once the (stage) show was written and it was up and running, ['Moana'] was my oasis of calm in the 'Hamilton' phenomenon."
"Moana" tells the story of a teenager who is drawn to the open ocean despite her father's admonition that no one from their island village venture beyond the reef. But a curse threatens their survival – the fish have stopped biting and the plants are dying – so Moana defies her dad, who is also the village chief, to seek solutions across the water. She'll need help from the elusive Maui, demigod of wind and sea.
Newcomer Auli'i Cravalho plays Moana. Dwayne Johnson voices Maui.
Miranda said Johnson needed no coaxing to sing. In fact, he demanded it.
"It wasn't about getting him to sing," Miranda said. "It was about meeting the challenge of: you've got this larger-than-life personality, he's incredibly charming, how do you write a song worthy of that?"
Johnson said he just wanted to do whatever he could to make the film better.
"I was up for, yes, singing," he said. "Because I knew what you have with Lin... He's a master and he's a genius, really, at what he does. I knew if I gave him the parameters and the directive of there's no limits, let's just have fun and go for it – and he wrote this song and we had a blast."
As Maui, Johnson performs a song about how wonderful he is called "You're Welcome."
Other Miranda-written songs include Moana's tune, "How Far I'll Go," the sweeping "We Know the Way," and the '70s glam-rock inspired "Shiny," performed by Jemaine Clement as a cranky crab.
Miranda is still in Disney's fold, having just relocated his family to London to begin production on "Mary Poppins Returns" next year. He plays a lamplighter, while Emily Blunt takes on the title character.
Miranda said his wife and son are adjusting well to the move across the pond. It's his dog that's having trouble acclimating.
"We live in an apartment in New York, and my dog is not used to having stairs," he said. "So getting netting on the ground so my dog felt comfortable on the stairs was the biggest challenge."
"Mary Poppins Returns" is set for release in 2018.